Artist uses language of 20th century abstraction to examine current condition
Published: April 3, 2013
Timothy Horjus: Solo Exhibition
At the Creative Alliance at the Patterson through April 13
Something strange is afoot in Solo Exhibition, the collection of Timothy Horjus’ new paintings currently on view in the Creative Alliance’s main gallery. It’s almost like these 18 new paintings arrive steeped in nostalgia. And it’s not that the area around some of Horjus’ canvas jut out from the wall in some riff on Frank Stella sculptural canvases. Horjus’ stated interests reside very much with the here and now: In wall text, he states that he’s “attempting to evoke the contemporary condition,” one where technology pushes us away from the real experiences, toward digital ones, while we rely on digital devices to mediate human interactions. No arguments with that take on the early 21st century; it’s merely elusive how he explores that notion in the works themselves. Working with brightly colored house paint and a vocabulary of precise, geometric patterns and designs, Horjus’ paintings are genuine eye-grabbers. But for a group of works ostensibly dealing with the here and now, Solo feels entirely the product of a pre-digital era.
Nothing wrong with that in and of itself, and the work itself is certainly alluring. Save a few smaller pieces, Horjus works large here, yielding expanses big enough to swallow a room. A group of four 60-by-60-inch panels form a larger square on the wall, and each is a striking composition of bold colors. In “‘Fwd: hi!’ (Sunset)” a sky-blue background is carved up by intersecting, slanting pink rectangles that appear to streak from off the canvas and across the composition. They form intersecting irregular polygons that get divided into smaller green, yellow, magenta, and gray polygons, until what’s left is this dance of colorful shapes. It’s a complex composition that manages to be both busy and placating; a geometric abstraction rendered in 8-bit video-game colors.
Very quickly, though, the eye spies that the four panels in this grouping are differently colored reflections of each other. The colors get rearranged, but the basic composition—the slanting rectangles, the dancing shapes—is constant. In fact, the 18 paintings here are presented in sets, each pairing a subtle reflection of the other. In some cases, they mirror each other precisely with only the colors varying; in others, only a few elements mirror each other, while the rest of the compositions vary in divergent manners: a slightly differently shaped canvas, groupings of shapes not exactly right, a triangle shape in one panel becoming a rhombus-like shape in the other.
Perhaps these slightly off reflections are how Horjus chooses to articulate his examination of the so-called contemporary condition, via an abstract vocabulary—the implication being that the digital experience is one that is just ever so subtly different from the real, the actual, the IRL where f2f interactions take place. It’s an idea that complements the paintings’ titles, which feel culled from spam emails: “Re: hello,” “(No Subject),” “‘Hey I’m Tammy, Let’s hook up’ (Twilight Purple),” etc. Such wording is routinely familiar to email users—read: pretty much everybody—and even email-client spam filters. We talk about such things as if they’re the lint of online life. They’re sent out by bots, nonexistent Nigerian businessmen, and the like. There’s no “they” there; they merely clog up the normal, everyday workings of living right now—which includes those digitally mediated human experiences that Horjus alludes to in his wall text about the show.
That seamlessness of the human/digital interface, the omnipresence of the ghosts in the machine, feels to be what’s missing from Horjus’ vocabulary here. Nothing about what’s on view in Solo feels arbitrary. The hard edges of the lines in his compositions, the consistent intensity of his paint to the canvas, the slight deviations of patterns in some of the compositions, the formal symmetry—these are the painstaking gestures of the artist’s mind and hand. That’s a perfectly reasonable aesthetic statement to make, work that values the labor of the human hand over the computerized process. It’s just a sentiment that doesn’t entirely jibe with how we actually inhabit this digital world.
Consider Autocorrect: that annoying process that guesses what we’re texting/typing and sometimes does so incorrectly, like a grammarian telling you what you actually mean. Or think of that algorithm of greed that constantly accumulates marketing data to spit out the ads that appear in sidebars of Facebook pages, websites, web-based emails, and wherever else there’s space that can vie for your money—we’ve personalized our little corner of the internet so that computers can figure out how to sell us things better. These are the most omnipresent reminders that what’s most troubling about the contemporary digital/human interface isn’t that we’re using one to replace the other, it’s that it’s increasingly difficult to draw the line between the two. We talk about the uncanny valley that accompanies the man-made looking human, but we’ve acclimated to the man-made acting human with astonishing alacrity. I know people who confess to starting arguments with iOS 6’s Siri before realizing they’re talking to a phone, a comical shame not unlike trying to have a rational conversation with the cat.
Horjus’ Solo paintings feel impervious to such issues and look more like responses to a time when the line between human and not human was less diffuse. That’s a perfectly fine time period to consider; it’s just unclear what comment Horjus wants to make with his paintings in this show. As a statement of the tactile experience and expertise of painter, they’re vibrant proof that Horjus can make hotly colored geometric abstractions be as seductively decorative as much more staid, safer fare. As a comment on the way we live now, though, the world they appear to reflect simply doesn’t correspond to the one that these eyeballs—attached to their admittedly narrow-minded brain—see every day.
BMA director Doreen Bolger and Horjus discuss his work at a closing artist talk April 13, 2-4 p.m., followed by a performance by the Elm City Dance Collective, 3-5 p.m.
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